Stores and credit card companies want to make it as easy as possible for you to buy things with your credit card. They invest billions to get you to use your cards, including major advertising and rewards programs. If your credit card bills at the end of every month make you want to flee the country, the first step to getting through it is to stop spending on them. These tricks will help you fight back against the psychology and stick to cash purchases only.
Place each card in a paper cup full of water, then put the cup in the freezer. Next time you want to purchase something with credit, you'll have a few hours to rethink the choice while the ice melts. If you're really hardcore, use a piece of foil to cover the number, or put dye in the ice. This prevents you from seeing the number to make online purchases.
Rub a common kitchen magnet over the strip, demagnetising it. You will still be able to make purchases by using the number on the card, but swiping it will no longer be possible. Careful, as you can't reverse this one. If you end up needing a new card, you will have to call the credit card issuer to order a new one.
Create a sleeve for your cards, or tape something to each one. Write your goals visibly on the outside: a picture of a loved one, your mission statement, "I'm trying to pay this card off", or simply a warning, "For emergency use only!". You can also tape some aluminium foil, folded over a few times for thickness, over the magnetic strip, preventing it from being swiped. These triggers can be enough to make you second-guess a purchase decision. They also allow you to continue carrying the card in your wallet in case you need it in an emergency, but force you to peel everything off before spending.
Delete Card Info From Online Sites
eCommerce sites like Amazon and iTunes store your credit card information to make buying things easy. This allows you to check out with as few clicks as possible, before you've given enough thought to making a purchase. Deleting your stored credit card info from these sites will make you work harder to buy things.
Lock Them Up
If you have a safe, locking your cards inside it keeps you from accessing them without thought. It also helps you to think about your credit cards like other things you keep in the safe - things that you rarely use like passports, investment papers, and legal documents. Additionally, it's good practice to keep your valuables in a safe.
Give Them To A Trusted Friend Or Loved One
If you trust someone to responsibly care for your credit cards, you can recruit them to be your financial bodyguard. Have them hold on to your cards for you. The social pain of asking to have your cards back, and explaining why, is a strong deterrent to frivolous purchases. Make sure you truly trust this person, because you're giving them a big responsibility.
Cut Them Up
Cutting your cards into small pieces and getting rid of the remains will prevent you from using them. To make any purchases, you will have to call the credit card issuer and get a new card sent over. Be sure to cut the card and number into many pieces. Disposing of half of the remains in your home trash can, and the other half in your work trash can, ensures that no identity thief can fully reconstruct your card.
The safest way to ensure you don't spend on a credit card is to close the account. You should only do this if you aren't carrying a balance on the account. You should also double-check to make sure you don't have any recurring automatic payments on the accounts you close.
Keep A Low-Limit Card For Emergencies
If you need to carry a card for emergencies, make sure it has a low limit of no more than $1,000. Better yet, carry a debit card that has some money on it (but beware of having too much available, as this money is hard to recover in a fraud case). Cash is king. Another method is to withdraw exactly what you need for the week based on your budget, so that when it's spent, it's spent!
Fighting back against the credit card psychology of "spend spend spend" is all about barriers. Whenever cards are the grease that makes your day run smoothly, you will always be hooked. These techniques, from making your cards less accessible to destroying them altogether, force you to jump through hoops before spending on them.
What techniques have you found to help yourself get out of debt? Share your ideas in the comments.
Loren Baxter is a Lifehacker reader and Director of User Experience at ReadyForZero.com. He graduated college with credit card debt but now enjoys the freedom of zero debt. Follow him at @lorenbaxter.